Excel spreadsheet data
Credit: Image by Arbron on Flickr. Some rights reserved

"Remember the old days when web production was done with a single team?"

Shazna Nessa, the Knight Foundation's director of journalism, believes "everything new is specialised and in a cluster", but over time these groups become "the new normal" and are integrated within the newsroom.

"I think that will happen to data too, I love the idea that... there's somebody with those skills in the sports department, somebody with those skills in the video department. I think it's a matter of time," she said at the GEN Summit yesterday.

Before joining the Knight Foundation, Nessa was deputy managing editor at the Associated Press, overlooking data and interactive projects among others.

She said she had hoped the culture of "going to the data team and asking them for something" was over.

But that's not necessarily the case, and Mohammed Haddad, data journalist at Al Jazeera English, explained how the most important role in a data team is the "architect", the editor who shapes the story.

"Often times a journalist will come to you with a story idea, they will say to you 'it should be a map'."

This journalist will already have decided that the data team is going to make a map for them.

"A few years back, making a map was good enough and was considered data journalism in some spheres, but now of course it's not good enough to just make a map," he said.

So the role of the "architect" is to think about the best way to tell the story in a visual way.

A typical data journalism team will include developers, designers, editors and producers, explained Haddad, and the aim of everyone in the team is to "serve the interest of the story" with the techniques and tools they use.

If this structure is in place across Al Jazeera's channel, it must be working. Al Jazeera America received a General Excellence prize at the Data Journalism Awards yesterday.

It received this award for three notable projects: Jim Crow Returns, a two part investigation looking at minority voters threatened with elimination from the electoral roll; In Between in California, a look at poverty and spending data in Californian households; and for the general portfolio of Michael Keller from the organisation's interactive multimedia team.

The most important aspect of data visualisation is making sure "visualisations are clarifying" the stories rather than simplifying them, said Haddad.

Another consideration is making sure your visualisations are easy to consume on a variety of devices.

"The novelty of making flashy things that maybe take forever to load, just because it's the cool technology, that's gone," he said.

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